Two Western photojournalists in Syria were held captive for a week by Islamic militants before being rescued by Syrian rebels, one of the men said Friday.
Jeroen Oerlemans, a prominent Dutch photographer, told Business News Radio of the Netherlands that he is not sure which group held him and John Cantlie of Britain, but said he is sure they were not Syrian.
“They all claimed they came from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh and Chechnya, and they said there was some vague ’emir’ at the head of the group,” he said in a seven-minute interview from Turkey, where the men were resting after their ordeal. Oerlemans was also recovering from two gunshot wounds suffered during an escape attempt.
His account would seem to add weight to reports that foreign Islamic fighters are going into Syria to support the rebel side.
The Associated Press could not reach the men, who were expected to return home within days, for more details of their ordeal.
Oerlemans told Business News Radio that he and Cantlie entered Syria on July 19, and were captured almost immediately.
“You go with a donkey caravan over the border,” he said. “It went left, we went right and walked into a camp of 20 tents and in no time we had a circle of men around us with Kalashnikovs and we were taken captive.”
The militants accused the men of working for the CIA and took their equipment and documents, he said.
Oerlemans said it soon became clear that their captors planned to seek ransom, so the photographers tried to escape. They were quickly intercepted and Oerlemans was shot in the foot and thigh, he said. His captors bandaged his wounds but kept the two men handcuffed and blindfolded after that, he said.
“I was wounded, but the bullets missed all the vital parts, and I’m frisky as a puppy and enormously happy that I’ve survived it all, that it ended well,” he said.
On Friday morning they were told they would be moved to another location when a group of Syrian rebels stormed the tent and put the photographers in trucks.
Suddenly four soldiers from the Syrian Free Army entered the camp and asked them how long they had been held.
“They took us with them like a bunch of gangsters,” Oerlemans was quoted in a separate interview with NRC Handelsblad. “Shooting in the air we rode out of there.”
Uri Rosenthal, the Netherlands’ foreign minister, said Dutch diplomats were traveling to Oerlemans to help him get home. The British Foreign Office cited privacy concerns in not commenting.
Oerlemans is well-known in the Netherlands, having won two national photography awards.
Cantlie’s LinkedIn page describes him as a freelance journalist and photographer with 20 years’ experience in “hostile environment reportage.” It says his clients have included British newspapers such as The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sun; GQ and FHM magazines; and the BBC.